On Writing: Mental Playgrounds

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been utilizing the daily word website 750 Words off and on over the last few years, and using it as a sort of ‘mental playground’ where I can have fun playing with ideas that happen to pop into my head.  In short, it’s a simple site where you log on and crank out at least 750 words for the day.  It doesn’t matter what it is…poetry, prose, automatic writing, it doesn’t judge as long as you hit the goal.  It’s a perfect place if you have trouble getting yourself started, but it’s also a great place for training yourself to write something without Editor Brain (or Revision Brain, for that matter) getting in the way.  I’ve used it for both, and it’s definitely helped get the writing juices flowing.

Now?  I use it as a testing ground for new ideas.  I’ve come up with at least three solid novel ideas this way, which will become future projects a little further down the road.  A half hour’s riffing on an idea really can go a long way, and with a few weeks’ worth of consistent work, one can have the makings of a complete outline, or at least a very rough draft.

Lately, I’ve been using it to try out different ideas for this new Mendaihu Universe story.  The first few chapters of any new project often end up sounding very disjointed and lacking continuity, and it’s very obvious that I’m still trying to figure out where the hell I’m going with it.  [Case in point, during my transcription from longhand to Word document yesterday, I noticed a scene starting midday, but changing to evening within a page.]  Which is fine, considering the first draft is always the roughest, but at some point before I get too far, I have to lay some ground rules.  I have to say, okay — enough floundering, time to give this story meaning and direction.

This is where the 750 can come in handy for me:  it’s what I call the outtake reel.  I’ll come up with a specific scene and riff on it, see how it fits in the context of the overall story, if it’s true to the characters, and above all, if the idea will be useful down the line.  Sometimes it’ll work, sometimes it won’t.  It won’t be the final take, but it’ll at least give me something to shoot for.  And with this week’s exercises, I found myself rewriting the same scene that I’d come up with way back in 1993 for the first Vigil outtake, only updated and with different characters.  I hadn’t planned on using the scene ever again, but it seemed to fit so naturally here that I ran with it.  It’ll most likely be somewhere in Act 2 of this current book.  In the process, it also clarified a number of plot ideas I’d had for this project, so I won’t be floundering nearly as much anymore.

 

Having a mental playground for your novel ideas is always a good thing.  You may have to train yourself (like I did) to realize that these are only rehearsals and rough outtakes and not part of the final version, but the outcome of these exercises is almost always fruitful.  By letting your characters run around freely, you end up learning a bit more about them, and in the process you’ll know how they’ll react within the scenes you place them in.   By letting yourself riff on an idea that may or may not even be a part of the current story, you might even come up with a much clearer idea of what you do need to work on.

You don’t necessarily need a site like 750 Words; it might be an ‘outtake’ document on your PC, a dedicated notebook, or a handful of scrap paper.  Whatever works for you.  Like I said, this is the rehearsal stage…it’s where you work out the idea, get rid of the stuff that doesn’t work, and work on strengthening the stuff that does.  And above all, it’s where you have fun with it, with Editor and Revision Brains off having a cocktail somewhere else.

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